Despite being outscored by 57 points on the season, the Bills made the playoffs in 2017 with a 9-7 record for the first time since 1999. Their offense ranked 29th in yards gained (302.6) while scoring only 31 TDs. Buffalo lost the time of possession battle (28:20 to 32:11), but they won games by finishing +9 in turnover ratio. On defense, the Bills placed 18th in points allowed (359) and 26th in yards allowed. Over the last four seasons, Buffalo is a .500 ball club.
Sean McDermott returns for his second season as head coach. McDermott was the defensive coordinator for the Panthers over the last six seasons. He’ll bring an attacking style to the defense with a premium of creating turnovers and stopping the run. Brian Daboll takes over as the offensive coordinator. He’s been working in the NFL since 2000 with four seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator (Cleveland, Miami, and Kansas City). Brian worked in the Patriots’ coaching system for 11 seasons. In 2017, Daboll was the offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide. He’s been part of five Super Bowl teams and one National College Championship. Leslie Frazier was brought in to run the Bills’ defense in 2017. He’s coached in the NFL since 1999 with five seasons coming as a defensive coordinator and three years as a head coach (21-32-1).
The biggest offseason moves for Buffalo came at the quarterback position. They signed A.J. McCarron to a two-year deal in mid-March to hopefully bridge the gap at quarterback until Josh Allen is ready to run the team. Just before acquiring McCarron, the Bills traded Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns for a third-round draft pick.
They lost WR Jordan Matthews who signed with the Patriots. Their CB depth (E.J. Gaines and Shareece Wright) found new homes in the league. Top tackling LB Preston Brown moved onto the Cinci.
The Bills brought in two CB – Vontae Davis and Phillip Gaines. Davis was once a top CB, but his career is moving in the wrong direction after missing 11 games in his eight seasons in the NFL.
Russell Bodine was brought in to take over the center position. OL Marshall Newhouse will compete for a starting job. RB Chris Ivory with add depth to the RB position. LT Cordy Glenn was traded to the Bengals in March after turning in a subpar 2017 season.
Buffalo added DT Star Lotulelei in the offseason to help solidify the interior of their defensive line.
With Tom Brady nearing the end of his career, the Jets and the Bills hope to be positioning themselves to make a push for the upper tier of the division by adding upside QBs in the first round in this seasons NFL draft. After a couple of trades to move up in the first round, Buffalo landed their QB of choice by adding Josh Allen. He has a big arm while needing some time to develop.
With their second pick in the first round, the Bills selected LB Tremaine Edmunds. He has electric athletic talent with future upside as a pass rusher. Edmunds has great size (6’5”) for his position, but he still needs to add more strength to help win more battles in the trenches. His biggest weakness tends to be his vision and reaction time. With better reads and fewer missteps, Tremaine is going to be a force at the second level of the defense.
In the third round, Buffalo decided to invest in DT Harrison Phillips. His game is built on strength and leverage helping Phillips controlling his small area of the field. His range is limited, and Harrison will struggle to reach the QB outside of a bull rush. Phillips projects as an early-down run clogger.
CB Taron Johnson was the player of choice in the fourth round. Johnson has a physical style despite lacking an edge in size (5’11” and 192 lbs.). Johnson will battle in press coverage, but a quick receiver with elusiveness is going to be a problem with a long passing window. Taron can make plays when asked to play in off coverage.
The Bills drafted G Wyatt Teller in the fifth round. His game looked the NFL part in 2016, but Teller lacked commitment last season. He’s a power player who will offer upside in a power run game with a better mindset. Wyatt lacks the foot speed to handle his assignments outside his small piece of the field.
With their last two picks, the Bills added a pair of WRs – Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl. Mccloud has a winning resume at Clemson, but his game and skill set points to a return man in the NFL with occasional matchup edges. Ray-ray needs to add more strength while having questions about his ability to separate downfield. Proehl caught 43 passes for 597 yards and three TDs in 2016 while ranking fourth on the depth chart at North Carolina. A broken collarbone cost him most of 2017 thus creating a lower draft value. Austin projects as a slot WR. He ran a 4.4 at a local combine, which shows his quickness and short area speed.
After posting the top rushing stats (2,630 yards and 29 TDs) in 2016, Buffalo slipped to sixth in rushing yards (2,017) with a huge decline in rushing TDs (12). The Bills RBs gained only 3.9 yards per rush. Their offensive line allowed 47 sacks and 90 QB hurries, which translated to the third highest sack rate (9.9) in the league.
LT Dion Dawkins was a second-round draft pick by the Bills in 2017 after playing left tackle in his college career at Temple. He offers athletic ability and power to the tackle position with his best asset expected to be pass protection. In his rookie season, Buffalo had him on the field for 784 offensive snaps, which included ten starts leading to about a league average player.
LG John Miller may be forced into the starting lineup at a different position in 2018 after Richie Incognito decided to retire in April. Incognito stated “stress” as the reason for his decision to hang up his cleats. Buffalo hopes he changes his mind after playing well in pass protection in 2017 while regressing from his two best seasons in the league. Miller saw limited action in his first three seasons in the NFL after being selected in the third round in 2015. In 2016, John started all 16 games with neutral success. Last year he started the first four games, but an ankle injury ended his season.
C Russell Bodine doesn’t project to be a high upside player based on three poor seasons in the NFL in his four-year career. The Bengals drafted him in the fourth round in 2014. Bodine is a two-year starter with risk in both run and pass blocking. The retirement of Eric Wood, who suffered a neck injury in 2017, created the void at the center position.
RG Vladimir Ducasse took over for John Miller in Week 5 in 2017. Ducasse finished with his best season since his rookie campaign in 2010. His best value came in pass blocking. The Bills would prefer to start Miller at right guard if Richie Incognito changes his mind on the 2018 season. Rookie Wyatt Teller may emerge as the starter at some point in 2018.
RT Jordan Mills has never produced a strong enough season to start in his five seasons in the NFL after getting drafted in the fifth round in 2013. This position looks to be the weakest link on the Bills’ offensive line.
In its present form (no Incognito), Buffalo has risk in at least three spots on their offensive line while the best two options would grade as league average. The change from a running QB will lead to more sacks and smaller running lanes. If LeSean McCoy went down with an injury, this offense would rank near the bottom of the league in all areas.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
Based on 2017 stats without taking in changes to all teams on the 2018 schedule for the Bills, Buffalo has two poor matchups (MIN and TEN) for their run game with only one favorable matchup (SD). The Bills won’t have a running QB this season pointing to an average league finish at best in running yards with minimal upside in rushing TDs. I don’t like their offensive line, which may invite a disaster season if this team suffers a couple of injuries to key players.
On the passing side, Buffalo has a league average schedule with three bad matchups (JAX, MIN, and LAC) and two games with the Patriots that look favorable based on last year’s stats. New England should have an easier time defending the Bills’ offense.
Over the last two seasons with Tyrod Taylor behind center, the Bills ran the ball more 50 percent of the time. The change at QB and questions about their offensive line suggest a big change game flow in 2018. Buffalo will struggle when chasing on the scoreboard, and they will be easier to defend when they become one dimensional. I expect an uptick in passing yards and sacks allowed with a possible 20 percent drop in rushing yards. The key for the offense to stay in games will be the growth of their defense.
QB A.J. McCarron – After riding the bench for most of his last three seasons for the Bengals, McCarron will have a short window to prove he belongs in the top 32 QBs in the league. He’s made three starts (2-1) in his NFL career with his best game coming in 2015 vs. the Steelers (280/2). His completion rate (64.7) in the pros falls in a range with his college resume (66.9) where A.J. won two National Championships with Alabama as a starting QB. Over three seasons as a starter in college, McCarron passed for 8,630 yards with 77 TDs and 15 Ints. His ability to minimize mistakes should give him a full season window as the starting QB for the Bills, but wins will determine his ultimate playing time in 2018. Buffalo has a very good pass catching back, and Kelvin Benjamin still has talent. I don’t know what to make of Zay Jones after his offseason incident. In the end, the Bills have below league average talent across their receiving positions. They will struggle to make scoring plays in the passing game in the red zone. McCarron is undraftable in the Fantasy market. His winning days behind a great offensive line in college are miles away in the rear-view mirror. For him to prove his worth in the NFL, he needs to make the players around him better while doing a winning job in a ball control type offense.
QB Josh Allen – Allen was asked to do a lot over the last two seasons at Wyoming. In his 25 games in 2016 and 2017, he passed for 5,015 yards while gaining another 727 yards on the ground. Josh had 44 passing TDs and 21 Ints in his college career with another 12 scores on the ground. His accuracy (56.2) isn’t where it needs to be to be successful early in his NFL career. Allen has a Vinny Testaverde feel with better wheels. His arm is top shelf while needing to prove he has the skill set to read NFL defenses and make better throws under a shorter passing window. Josh will be tough to tackle, but he needs to improve his pocket presence and decision making. The comparison to Carson Wentz could be a trap and push a team to draft him higher than his true value. I see more of a project than a Super Bowl winner. With the right team and coaching staff, his game has a chance to be much higher. The Bills will give him a year or two to improve his game, but fans may clamor for Allen to start if Buffalo is losing games at a high rate in 2018.
Other options: Nathan Peterman
RB LeSean McCoy – After a special season in 2016 where McCoy delivered 1,633 combined yards with 14 TDs and 50 catches leading to the 4th highest ranking at RB in PPR leagues, LeSean was tough to pass up on draft day in 2017. He’s a perfect case where stats from the previous season shouldn’t dictate draft value. In the end last year, McCoy finished with comparable yards (1,576) and catches (59), but regression in TDs (8) and less room to run (4.0 yards per rush compared to 5.4 in 2016) led to a 7th place ranking at RB in PPR leagues with 264.60 Fantasy points. The rub here is the next RB drafted in many leagues last year was Todd Gurley won outscored LeSean by more than 120 Fantasy points. McCoy will start 2018 at age 30 with six seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing and five years with 50 catches or more. He has a high floor in most weeks with a chance to get more than 20 touches per game. Over the last eight seasons in the NFL, LeSean has 11 missed game in 108 possible starts. His stats point to another top 10 finish at RB in PPR leagues, but his offensive line has weakness plus the loss of a running QB will free up another linebacker to limit his ability to break into space. It is tough avoiding a player with a long resume of success, but the direction of this offense suggests more regression. Possible 1,400 yards with a chance at another 50 catches and below ten TDs. At best a second piece to the puzzle with risk on his late-season value.
Update: 7/27/18 > McCoy reported to camp on time, and he remains positive on his playing time despite a huge legal case looming over him. Fantasy owners must follow LeSean’s off the field news in August as it could turn on a dime. With more information released, his season could be lost and possibly his career if he’s found tied to the incident vs. his ex-girlfriend at his house in Georgia.
I’m avoiding him for now until I have more information on his backstory. I expect McCoy to lose value in Fantasy drafts, which may end up turning him into a great value if he’s clear of any wrongdoing.
Update: 8/14/2018 > The ex-girlfriend saga isn’t going away for McCoy. She filed a personal injury lawsuit against him this week while the home invasion is still under investigation. At this point, LeSean may just pay her off to put the issue to bed. Either way, he plays his hand, the NFL could come and drop the suspension bomb on him at some point in 2018 if this case breaks in the wrong direction.
RB Chris Ivory – The Bills added Ivory for RB depth in the offseason. He failed to make an impact in two years with the Jaguars, which wasn’t helped last year by the addition of Leonard Fournette. Chris was at his best from 2013 to 2015 with the Jets when he gained 3,074 combined yards with 18 TDs and 50 catches. His yards per rush have faded in 2016 (3.8) and 2017 (3.4) suggesting that his better days are behind him at age 30. His passing catching ability has improved over the last four seasons (18/123/1, 30/217/1, 20/186/0, and 21/175/1) to help add value to his skill set. Only a low-level handcuff with a chance to get about 100 touches in 2018.
Other Options: Aaron Green, Travaris Cadet, Marcus Murphy, Taiwan Jones
WR Kelvin Benjamin – Over his first eight games in 2017, Benjamin had 32 catches for 475 yards and two TDs on 51 targets with the Panthers. His pace was still in range to beat his best season in 2014 (73/1008/9) with a few more chances. Unfortunately for him and Fantasy owners, Kelvin was shipped to the Canadian border to start for the Bills. He battled a knee issue for most of the year leading to three missed games with Buffalo. Benjamin only caught 16 of 27 targets over six games with the Bills for 217 yards and one TD. In the offseason, he tried to get in better shape to prepare for 2018. Last year Buffalo only attempted 476 passes with WRs catching a league-low 115 of 224 targets for 1,475 yards and nine TDs. The change at QB should lead to a minimum of ten percent growth in passing attempts. Benjamin should be the top receiving option on the roster, but his opportunity can’t be much higher than a WR4 Fantasy option in PPR leagues. Possible 60 catches for 900 yards with five to seven TDs seems like a fair evaluation heading into 2018. Benjamin has scoring ability in the red zone, but he tends to struggle to get open deep on the outside leaving him in many jump ball situations.
WR Zay Jones – Over four seasons at East Carolina, Jones caught 399 passes for 4279 yards and 23 TDs highlighted by his senior year (158/1746/8). He did most of his damage close to the line of scrimmage, which led to short yards per catch (10.7). His hands grade well, but tighter coverage in the NFL will challenge his ability to catch the ball. His game may work better early in his career vs. zone coverage. Zay needs to prove he can beat press coverage while improving his route running. I don’t see a huge edge as an open field runner while lacking explosiveness in the deep passing game. His best asset early in his career with be his quickness and short area speed. In his rookie season, Jones barely had a pulse (27/316/2 on 74 targets) thanks to a poor catch rate (36.5). He teased Fantasy owners over a three-game stretch mid-season (6/53/1, 4/68, and 3/33/1) on 24 combined targets. A torn labrum required surgery after the season. Jones had a strange incident in LA in March, but the case was dismissed by the police after he accepted responsibility for his actions and the apartment building decided not to press charges. Volume WR with a lot to prove in 2018. His college resume gives him a chance to be much improved if his shoulder issue was truly a big part of his failure in his catch rate.
Update: 8/11/2018 > Jones is behind the curve in his preseason training with a slow recovery for his 2017 injuries. He’ll have more competition for targets this year with Corey Coleman added to the roster.
Corey Coleman (WR) – – Over three seasons at Baylor, Coleman caught 173 passes for 3,009 yards and 33 passing TDs highlighted by his 2015 season (74/1363/20). Corey also had 33 rushes over his sophomore and junior seasons for 164 yards and a TD. He has excellent speed (4.4) with upside in his leaping ability helping him win many jumps balls. On many of his highlights, Coleman had a free release off the line of scrimmage creating an instant winnable window. His quickness and strength should help him against press coverage in the NFL. Corey has some wiggle leading to solid value in the open field. Over two injury-plagued seasons in the NFL, Coleman has 56 catches for 718 yards and five TDs on 131 targets. His opportunity is much lower in his third year in the league with Josh Gordon back in the starting lineup, and Jarvis Landry added to the Browns’ roster. Only a low-grade insurance policy while being the fourth option in Cleveland’s passing game.
Update: 8/11/18 > Coleman was traded to the Bills in early August for a late round draft pick. He’ll complete with Zay Jones for the WR2 job in Buffalo. Corey does have a slight hamstring issue.
WR Andre Holmes – After offering some value in 2014 (47/693/4 on 98 targets), Holmes only had 41 combined catches for 447 yards and ten TDs on 81 targets over the last three years as a WR4. The Bills brought him in to compete for the WR3 job plus add size at the goal line. His catch rate (49.3) is low in his career while scoring 15 TDs in 79 games played. Andre has no Fantasy value again in 2018.
WR Austin Proehl – Over four years in college, Proehl has 91 catches for 1,265 yards and five TDs. His game started to show value in 2017 (43/597/3), but an injury in 2017 led to only six games played (21/337/1). Quick slot type WR who lacks size (5’10” and 185 lbs.).
WR Ray-Ray McCloud – The Clemson Tigers gave McCloud plenty of chances over the last two seasons (49/472/1 and 40/503/1). He gained only 9.7 yards per catch in his career, which had more of a running back feel. Scout question his ability to separate and make plays beyond the first five yards past the line of scrimmage. His skill set will overlap Proehl with a lot less speed and route running ability. Possible return option if McCloud can hang onto the football.
Other Options: Kaelin Clay, Rod Streater, Jeremy Kerley, Brandon Reilly, Malachi Dupre
TE Charles Clay – Clay produced three playable games (4/53/1, 6/39/1, and 5/112) over his first four starts, but a knee injury led to three missed game. Over his last eight games, he had 29 catches for 300 yards with no TDs on 46 targets. Over the last four seasons, Charles caught 215 passes for 2,243 yards and 12 TDs on 322 targets while missing nine games. He’s battled a knee issue over the last couple of seasons, which makes him tough to trust at age 29. Only a backup TE with short-term or injury cover value.
TE Logan Thomas – After failing to make a living in the NFL as a quarterback, Thomas made a switch to TE in 2017. He showed enough upside to earn a bench role leading to seven catches for 67 yards and a TD on nine targets. At 6’6” and 250 lbs., Logan has the build to play TE at the night level. He’ll have a learning curve for sure, but talent is on his side. Just a player to follow for now while needing to fine-tune his skill set on the field.
Other options: Nick O’Leary, Jason Croom, Khari Lee
PK Stephen Hauschka – In his first season in Buffalo, Hauschka made 29 of 33 field goal attempts with his best value coming from 50 yards or more (7-for-9). In his career, he’s made 87.3 percent of his kicks with a high level of success from long range (23-for-33). Over his last five seasons, Stephen averaged 31 made field goals. After struggling with the longer extra-points in 2015 (40-for-44) and 2016 (29-for-35), Hauschka regained his form last year (29-for-29). Hit or miss type kicker with the Bills expected to have a problem scoring TDs in 2018. Buffalo will stall inside the 20 yards line, which gives him playable value in games when the Bills are the favorite.
Buffalo will face three teams (MIA X 2 and DET) with weak rushing attacks based on 2017 stats, which gives them a favorable run schedule on the year. Their toughest game defending the run will come vs. the Jaguars. The Bills will be challenged in the passing game by the Patriots (2), the Lions, and the Chargers. They have six games against teams with below par passing attacks (BAL, GB, TEN, IND, and NYJ), but the Colts and the Packers will be improved with Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck healthy. Overall, Buffalo has a favorable schedule vs. the pass.
The Bills ranked 29th in the NL defending the run in 2017 with teams scoring a league-high 22 rushing TDs. Ball carriers gained 4.3 yards per rush with 14 runs over 20 yards. Buffalo did a nice job defending QBs as far as yards per pass attempt (6.7) and TDs allowed (14), but they did finish 20th in the NFL in passing yards allowed (3,688). Their defense recorded only 27 sacks.
The best three players on Buffalo’s defense in 2017 were DE Jerry Hughes, S Micah Hyde, S Jordan Poyer, and CB Tre’Davious White. After recording 20 combined sacks in 2013 and 2014, Hughes only has 15 sacks in his last three seasons. He played much better against the run in 2017, which was helped by the Jets, the Patriots, and the Dolphins having below elite talent at RB.
The best part of Hyde and Power last year was their ability to cover receivers. Hyde has risk in run support while defending 13 passes with a career-high in tackles (82) and Ints (5). Poyer was a much-improved player after struggling in three seasons with the Browns. He set career highs in tackles (95), sacks (2), pass defended (13) and Ints (5). Scheme was a big part of the success of both safeties.
White was impressive his rookie season after the Bills selected with the 27th overall pick. He defended 18 passes with four Ints and one TD while forcing one fumble and recovering two others. He even made 69 tackles. His final stats were much higher than expected. Vontae Davis will look to regain his form at cornerback on the other side of the field. In 2014, Davis was considered one of the better CBs in the league with a high level of success in coverage in 2013 and 2015. His game slipped well below league average over the last two seasons with his 2017 failure coming from an injury (11 missed games due to a groin issue). Vontae will start the year at age 30. Phillip Gaines appears to be the top options to be the third CB in nickel coverage.
DE Shaq Lawson missed 11 games over his first two seasons in the NFL after the Bills selected him 19th overall in 2016. He’s battled a shoulder and an ankle in each year in the league. Shaq should offer power with some quickness to the Bills defense. His game is more geared toward stopping the run and neutralizing the TE than attacking the QB. His scouting report suggests his future will be at LB in the NFL. Lawson had 33 tackles and four sacks in 2017. DE Trent Murphy will add rotational value to the pass rush after recording a career-high nine sacks for the Redskins last season. He’s a former second-round draft pick (2015).
The Bills will try to squeeze one more season out of DT Kyle Williams who start the year at age 35. He projects more a rotational run stopper with minimal upside in sacks. DT Adolphus Washington was a liability in all areas in 2017. Washington adds explosiveness off the line of scrimmage for the Bills’ interior line. His biggest weakness is his power until he adds more strength to his lower body and his motor will be challenged against top talent on the other side of the ball. DT Star Lotulelei played well in his first two seasons in the NFL in 2013 and 2014, but he performed at the lowest level of his career in 2017 with the Panthers. The Bills thought enough of him to sign him to a five-year contract in March. Lotulelei is a former first-round draft pick (2013). Rookie Harrison Phillips should be the future option to replace Williams in the starting lineup on running downs. He plays with power and awareness.
LB Tremaine Edwards should step right into the middle linebacking position after being drafted with the 16t overall pick in 2018. He has the tools to make an impact in his first season while his biggest weakness remains his reaction time and vision. The only other player of value at the second level of this defense is LB Matt Milano who tends to be a neutral player against the run. In a part-time role in his rookie season, Milano made 49 tackles with no sacks, two defended passes, an INT, and a TD. LB Ramon Humber added 89 tackles in 2017 with one sack. LB Lorenzo Alexander had a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2016 at age 33, but he reverted to his previous form by adding only three sacks last year.
Overall, the secondary looks to have strength on paper if Davis can regain some of his form. I could see a step back in play at safeties after both starters had career seasons. The defensive line should be improved against the run, but I don’t see a huge step forward in sacks unless incumber linebacker Tremaine Edwards adds impact in this area. The biggest weakness of this defense appears to be at the two outside linebacking positions.
As a Fantasy option, Buffalo would only be a number two options for a team with matchup value. This defense should create turnovers when facing below average QBs. I don’t trust their offense enough to predict a winning season in 2018. When game score gets out of line, not in the Bills favor, Buffalo is going to struggle to get offenses off the field.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks